Saturday, July 28, 2007
Nagl/Bernstein/Akchoté/Jones - Big Four Live (HatHut, 2007) ****
After the success (relatively speaking) of their first studio album "Big Four", the new live version is a more than welcome addition. The band consists of an odd group of musicians : Max Nagl on sax, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Noël Akchoté on guitar and Bradley Jones on bass. Nagl is Austrian, and best known for his more avant-garde leanings, as is the French guitarist. Bernstein is a good mainstream trumpet player and excellent in musical arrangements and probably best known from his Diaspora CDs on the Tzadik label (and Sex Mob, of course!). Brad Jones is an American bass-player with references going from Don Byron and Marc Ribot to Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow. And the chemistry between these four gentlemen is excellent, because their technical skills allow them to master all jazz forms and sub-genres, and they demonstrate this here with lots of tongue-in-cheek and respectful joy. The whole of jazz history is being dealt with here, from traditional 12-bar blues, over swing, bop, hard-bop to more modern styles, but then brought by an intimistic free-jazz chamber ensemble, that can swing if need be. Most tracks start with well-rehearsed tunes, just to set the stage, and by itself this is fun, because the melodies and their perfect rendition are a real treat for the ear, but it becomes even more fun once they start playing around with the themes, transforming them, throwing them around and receiving them back. Bernstein has the lion's share of the compositions and that's not really a surprise since his knowledge of jazz history is certainly the deepest, yet that he manages to stand his role in the more free moments is a surprise and good to hear. And the opposite is certainly true for Nagl and Akchoté : their knowledge of the more classical idiom is excellent and the ease and joy with which they handle the mainstream parts are great. And that's what the audience thinks too. It claps and cheers, and probably the longest during and after the long and exhilirating "New Viper Dance", in which Jones gets the opportunity to demonstrate the sensitivity of his bass-playing during a long solo. "Big Four" is probably the nicest composition, more modern, more free, more sensitive, and the beautiful serpentine soloing of the horns are solidly supported by the bass. "Muddy" evolves from a jazzy melody to a straight-ahead Muddy Waters tribute, with Akchoté playing sensitive pentatonic blues scales, great, nice, fun, and the support by bass and horns is simple yet effective. In sum, the musicianship, the interplay, the rhythm and tempo changes, the bouncing of themes, the joy, the call-and-response, the musical quotes from jazz history : this is all candy for the ear, an album to enjoy.